(This story is strictly fictional. It is not set at any specific time in history. The dialogue mentions trench warfare, but it also makes an allusion to Antony Flew’s conversion to Deism, although it does not mention Flew’s name. There is also an allusion to Elie Wiesel, the author of the book Night. The Dying Teenager (DT) is based on me and my beliefs. The Protestant Minister (PM) is not based on anyone in particular. The dialogue takes place after a war in which DT was brutally wounded.)
PM: Well, you are quickly approaching the end of your earthly life. Are you ready for eternity?
DT: Yes, sir. I am ready.
PM: Are you sorry for what you have done?
DT: Sure. I wish I could have done better.
PM: I assume you’ve sought God’s forgiveness?
PM: If you die in sin without having repented, a just God will have no choice but to send you to Hell. Jesus Christ took the penalty for us when he was crucified; he died for the sins of the world.
DT: Then wouldn’t he have also died for the sin of disbelief?
PM: As I said, he died for our sins. But you must repent and be truly sorry.
DT: What if I neglect to do that?
PM: (looks away for a moment, then turns his head back) — Then you will burn in hell forever and be eternally separated from God.
DT: What about people who never heard of Jesus? What about people who heard of him but weren’t convinced that he is real?
PM: No such a thing. According to Paul in the Book of Romans, God’s existence is made clear to all men such that we are without excuse. Deep down, all men know God is real.
DT: (tactfully) — Then why do you send missionaries?
PM: (jerks his head a bit and ponders for a few seconds) — To spread the Good News: that you can escape eternal hell by repenting and asking Jesus to…
DT: Yeah, yeah, yeah. “Good” news”? According to your religion, the vast majority of people will spend an eternity in Hell. (pauses) What if Josef Stalin had rewarded a small number of families with a big house, food, and water—and toys, beautiful photographs… Would that make him good?
PM: But there’s a huge difference. God doesn’t send men to Hell; they send themselves to Hell.
DT: That is flawed reasoning. How could I send myself to a place I don’t know exists? Secondly, let’s say I stop at an intersection and I have two choices choice: turn left or turn right. So I turn left and fall into a pothole. Did I choose to land in the pothole? No, for I didn’t know it was there. Similarly, I do not know if God exists or if there is a hell.
PM: (ticked off) — Where did the universe come from, smart boy?
DT: I don’t know, but let’s get back on subject… You said that all men know God is real, but yet you send missionaries to South America, Asia and Africa. You said it’s to spread the “Good News,” but supposedly we already know the “Good News.” I submit that you Christians know damn well that there are genuine nonbelievers in the world. It makes sense that most Christians are Christians not because “they felt it in their hearts,” but because they were indoctrinated as children. Children are more susceptible to believing fiction without questioning it. As evidence, I submit the fact of a child’s belief in Santa Claus as proof the children will believe any nonsense they’re told. Religions exploit that by pounding God and religious teachings into children’s heads when they’re young. I believe the best thing you can do for a child is to teach her to question things. Warn her that the world is full of scam artists who are out to take advantage of credulous people. Be skeptical, don’t believe anything no matter who said it or where you hear it.
PM: I readily admit that the reason why many people believe in God is because of childhood upbringing. But it is not impossible that one with atheist parents was taught that there is no god, and came to that conclusion—not on his own—but purely because of his upbringing. However, it is possible that one reached the conclusion of Atheism on his or her own without parental conditioning. Likewise, it is also true that one can come to the conclusion of Theism (and more specifically, Christianity), without being indoctrinated.
The fact that people are indoctrinated into a certain belief system does not show the belief system to be false. This would be the genetic fallacy.
DT: I agree with you on that point. Explaining the origins of one’s belief does not show the belief to be false. If it seemed like I was trying to convey that, I apologize. I’m curious as to these two questions: First, why do you think so many people are turning to Atheism? Does it have anything to do with this war and the horrors of trench warfare? Secondly—although unrelated—what good reasons are there to believe in God?
PM: With regards to your first question, I do believe this bloody war has left people hopeless. The hygiene of the soldiers in the trenches, how they so easily catch the plague. Their friends and family falling before their very eyes. Dead. Bloody. Battered. Amidst all this death and destruction, one might easily lose faith in their deity. It is sad, though, that the people who lose faith don’t realize this: that all injustices will be punished and all the tears will be wiped in the Hereafter. Yes, this life is horrible at times. Yes, this life is filled with challenges. But we must remember that God is watching, and this life is a test to show whether or not you really love God, whether or not you want God. The people who abandon God, for whatever reason, never wanted Him to begin with.
DT: “Never wanted Him to begin with”? How can you say such a thing? My cousin Elie was deeply religious. He visited the synagogue every day and prayed at night. When he witnessed depravity taken to the extremes, how could he not conclude Atheism when his supposed God just sat and did nothing? He sincerely loved God beforehand.
PM: Perhaps so. But he should have remembered that God has a plan, and Man is not competent enough to understand that plan completely.
Your second question was about good reasons for belief in God. I cite the cosmological argument, the design argument, and the resurrection of Christ.
The cosmological argument: Everything requires an explanation. If a dog were in the trunk of your car, you would not just think it appeared in there for no reason. It is there for a reason, probably because someone put it there. Another way of stating it is: Everything needs a cause, which means that the universe needed a cause. God is the cause.
DT: Why doesn’t your God require a cause?; why does he get special treatment?; aren’t you just answering a mystery with another mystery?
PM: God contains within Himself the reason for his existence, the explanation for his existence. He is self-existent. “Why does he get special treatment?” you ask. Why, because He is God! (laughs) Can’t you see? He is omnipotent. God is the explanation. You don’t need to know everything about God to recognize Him as Creator.
DT: If it’s okay to say that God doesn’t need a cause, then it’s okay to say that “the universe” doesn’t need a cause. Secondly, there is no reason to think that if the universe had a cause, that it has to be God, much less a specifically Christian or Muslim god. The cause could have been the quantum field, for example. I’m not afraid to admit that I don’t know. I don’t know if the universe had a cause, what cause might be, or if a god caused it. But assuming it was a god, I don’t believe it was the god of any revealed religion.
PM: I’ll just say this: the universe began to exist, so it did need a cause. Things don’t just pop out of nothingness.
Next, there is the design argument.
DT: (interrupts PM) — Save your breath. I heard this argument in a debate some time ago.
It says that the world or universe has characteristics that can only be explained by a divine designer; characteristics that point to a creator. First of all, the biological theory of evolution explains the diversity of life on this planet. Abiogenesis may be incomplete, but just because we don’t know about the origin of life doesn’t mean that God did it. We shouldn’t fill in gaps in our understanding with a deity. That is intellectual laziness. It’s dishonest. Second, we know from science and evolution that things tend to start out simple and get more and more complex. The Big Bang is consistent with this because you start with a singularity that expands outwards. Theists say the universe is fine-tuned, but just because we don’t know why it is so doesn’t mean that God did it. I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know the specifics about the evolution of the universe. In time, scientists will explain how it all got here. Natural explanations have always come forth to replace supernatural ones, and it’s never been the other way around. It should be no different when it comes to the supposed fine-tuning of the universe.
Another version of this argument points to all the pretty things in the world—children’s smiles, love, flowers, trees, puffy clouds, and chocolate—and says that “God did it.” A simple way to respond to this would be to point to all the horrible things in the world, such as murder, rape, genocide, poverty, etc. You can’t have it both ways.
PM: I’ll just say this: In biology, scientists have found examples of extreme irreducible complexity that point to a Creator. One famous atheist was recently converted to Deism as a result of examining the evidence.
Jesus: was he a liar, lunatic, or lord? Also, how do you explain the fact that the disciples claimed to have seen the risen Jesus and were willing to die for what they believed?
DT: The “liar, lunatic, or lord” argument presents a false trichotomy. There is a fourth option, and that is “legend.” It is possible that the stories in the New Testament were loosely based on a real preacher who may have been good but had some radical views. Perhaps the reason he claimed divinity was to divert attention away from the Roman leaders who claimed to be divine. Also, the argument assumes that Jesus actually did say the things that are attributed to him in the Bible.
PM: I’ll just say this: Historians agree that Jesus was crucified, that the disciples had experiences in which they say the risen Lord (as atheist New Testament scholar Jared Ludemann admits), that his tomb was found empty, and finally, that Jesus claimed divinity.
Now, what about the disciple’s martyrdom?
DT: I’ll repeat what the Marquis de Sade wrote in Dialogue Between a Priest and a Dying Man:
When we come to your martyrs, assuredly, these are the feeblest of all your arguments. To produce martyrs you need but to have enthusiasm on the one hand, resistance on the other; and so long as an opposed cause offers me as many of them as does yours, I shall never be sufficiently authorized to believe one better than the other, but rather very much inclined to consider all of them pitiable.
Also, it is possible that the disciples were so attached to this Jesus that they convinced themselves the story was true. (laughs) Perhaps they took magic mushrooms, or were sick, and they hallucinated and saw what appeared to be their Messiah. Additionally, how can one be sure that the disciples ever had a chance to recant?
Anyway, I just don’t know. And I don’t really care; I’m not a historian. Also, as Thomas Paine pointed out, what is more likely: that Nature should go out of Her course, or that men should lie? For Nature to go out of Her course would go against common experience. We do not see miracles nowadays (when we need them most).
PM: What about the prophecies? Jesus fulfilled the prophecies made in the Old Testament.
DT: He did not fulfill all the prophecies. (It’s no wonder why the Jews reject Jesus). He did not bring peace on earth, bring all the Jews back to Israel, end disease and oppression, or spread the knowledge of the One True God throughout all nations. All this was to be done during the Messiah’s lifetime, as no Jewish sources have an idea of a “Second Coming” of the Messiah (which is, indeed, a cop-out; it is an excuse given by Christians who realize that Jesus did not fulfill all the prophecies).
Here is what the philosopher Jim Lippard had to say about your prophecies:
Every case of alleged fulfillment of messianic prophecy suffers from one of the following failings: (1) the alleged Old Testament prophecy is not a messianic prophecy or not a prophecy at all, (2) the prophecy has not been fulfilled by Jesus, or (3) the prophecy is so vague as to be unconvincing in its application to Jesus.
For the sake of argument, I’ll assume that your Jesus did fulfill all the prophecies. The following is how Terroja Kincaid (TheAmazingAtheist) would refute your argument:
Let’s say you wanted to fake a Messiah, and there’s a bunch of holy texts lying around that give you the criteria that the Messiah has to meet. Wouldn’t you create a Messiah who met those standards? The prophecies of the Old Testament are fulfilled in the New Testament because the New Testament was written specifically to fulfill those aforementioned prophecies. It’s really not tough to grasp when you’re not under the stupidity ether that is religion.
PM: Okay. What did this Marquis de Sade have to say about the miracles that Jesus performed?
DT: If I answer, do you promise we can move on to discussing something else? (sighs)
PM: If you insist… but in the Hereafter, you will regret it. We can discuss the meaning of life afterwards.
DT: This is what he said regarding miracles:
As for your miracles, I am not any readier to be taken in by such rubbish. All rascals have performed them, all fools have believed in them; before I’d be persuaded of the truth of a miracle I would have to be very sure the event so called by you was absolutely contrary to the laws of Nature, for only what is outside of Nature can pass for miraculous; and who is so deeply learned in Nature that he can affirm the precise point where it is infringed upon?
Only two things are needed to accredit an alleged miracle, a mountebank and a few simpletons; tush, there’s the whole origin of your prodigies; all new adherents to a religious sect have wrought some; and more extraordinary still, all have found imbeciles around to believe them.
PM: A man rising from the dead—that is certainly contrary to the laws of nature, as well as turning water into wine. And as I mentioned before, the disciples were martyred for their beliefs. But as you requested, let’s move on…
What is the meaning of life in a world without God?
DT: To be perfectly honest: I don’t believe there is one.
PM: That doesn’t surprise me, given the state you’re in and your belief that you are an atheist. I believe there is an objective meaning to life, and that it is to know, love, and serve God.
DT: You can believe that if you like, but that does not make it true.
When it comes to the meaning of life, I lean towards existentialism. Although there is no absolute or objective meaning of life, we have the opportunity to create our own meaning. There is no predetermined meaning to our life before we are born. We exist first, then we define our essence. As Sartre said, “Existence precedes essence.”
PM: But what’s the point of that? It all ends in death. Why not just commit suicide?
DT: If everything is meaningless, then suicide is also meaningless. We might as well live on as if there is meaning. And that meaning is up to us to decide.
PM: Do you acknowledge that the meaning you create for yourself is just illusory?
DT: Well, right now, I don’t give my life meaning. I’m about to die. But if I did create my own meaning, then yes, it would just be an illusion. We’re condemned to live on this planet, so we might as well make the best of it. This is our only life, so we should embrace the small, beautiful things in it. We should have fun going to the beach, watching films, reading novels, making love, and not worrying about an afterlife for which there is no proof. “Imagine all the people living for today!”
* * *
His last words were a line from the famous John Lennon song, “Imagine.” He died without having confessed his sins, without having repented. The minister’s feeble attempts to convert him were unsuccessful. He walked away, but with a better understanding of the atheist position.
* * *
 Dialogue Between a Priest and a Dying Man, Marquis de Sade, 1782
 Isaiah 42.4: “He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.”
 “Imagine,” John Lennon, 1971
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